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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Homemade MRE Update and Sausage Making

A few years ago, I did a post titled, Homemade MREs [link].  It was about putting together your own meal packs with food you can pick up at the grocery store.   You buy what you like, then use your Foodsaver vacuum sealer to pack it up. 

As I noted in the article, one of the drawbacks is that the "Best By" date on most store-bought foods is much shorter than it is for real MREs.  Commercial MREs generally have a 5 years shelf live.  It's difficult to find store-bought food with anything better than a 2 year life.

As most preppers know, the Best By date is iffy at best.  With few exceptions, food will last longer than the given date.  It may lose a bit of its flavor, or some nutrients, or some of its original color, but it is perfectly healthy to eat.

I'm here to confirm that.

In the packs I put together, I generally had a Main Course and then a bunch of filler food.  The main meals generally consisted of either canned fish (kippered snacks are one of my favorites) or ready-to-heat-and-eat courses like Mac and Cheese, Spaghetti and Meatballs or something similar.  I've really grown fond of these -

 What I like about these is that you can heat them in a number of ways.  You can throw them in the microwave, or if that's not available, you can throw them in boiling water to heat them up. 

This one pictured above of turkey and dressing was 18 months past its Best By date, and I ate it cold.  No nukin' it, no nuthin'.

It was great.  No noticeable difference in taste, color or texture from fresh-off-the-shelf packs.  Really, it was very good. 

I also ate some Mac and Cheese in these little round tubs.  I don't recall the brand.  1 year past its Best By.  This one, I did put it in the microwave.  While its flavor and texture were normal, the color of the cheese had darkened.  Not some hideous mud color, but a "burnt umber" color instead of the usual Day Glo orange.

Lastly, I ate a Compleats of Spaghetti and Meatballs.  Nearly 2 years past the date.  I ate this cold as well.  Like the turkey meal, it rocked.  Very, very good.

In all of the packs, I usually included a bag of dry roasted peanuts and a long-term (1 year) protein bar.  While both were edible, they were nothing to write home about. 

The nuts were packed in a snack sized zip lock bag, which was then placed inside the Foodsaver bag.  They tasted stale.  The protein bar had gotten dry and crumbly.  I choked it down, but I needed a LOT of water.  Not a good thing in a survival situation with scarce resources.

The take-away:  To get the best over-all results, stick with non-cheese meals - at least if you think you will be eating them past their Best By date.  I'd stay away from the nuts as well.  In my new packs, I'll be swapping the protein bars for one or two of the Millennium Energy Bars [link].  These have a 5 year life and are very tasty as well.

As a side note, in my Get Home Bag, I've already swapped out the Mainstay brand survival bars for the Millennium bars.  I like the flavor better, and there is much more variety (10 flavors versus 1 flavor).

Why make your own MREs when the commercial ones, in general, are less expensive and have a longer shelf life?  Variety and comfort.

The commercial MREs - of which I own many cases - have a sterile, rigid "vibe" to them.  I think if it really got bad, popping open something from Quaker or Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee or Hormel would provide a bit of mental comfort.

Maybe right, maybe wrong, but it's how I'm rollin'....

On my recent trip to Idaho, on the way home, we passed through Reno.  Whenever I go to Reno, I MUST stop at the Cabella's that's in the area.

I was snooping around and picked up a couple of small ammo cans and some gun cleaning supplies.  I was in the "Smokers and Dehydrators" area and saw some collagen sausage casings.  I'd used these once before and didn't like the results - I'm a natural casing kinda guy!

I was getting ready to leave the area, when I spied these on the shelf -

Yeah, natural hog casings.  UNREFRIGERATED natural hog casings [link].  They caught my attention.

In reading the package, it tells you that there is at least 50 feet of casings in the package.  They're packed in salt, and are only required to be refrigerated after the pack is opened.  They were $7 in the store (add a dollar if you're buying online).

I picked up a pack and when I got home, I made a batch of my world famous Italian sausage.

In the past, when I've bought casings from my local butcher, they've either come packed in salt like these or in a salt water brine.  They come in very long, whole lengths of 20 feet or so.

These were cut into 5 or 6 foot lengths.  I was making 5 lbs of sausage, so I needed 10 feet of casings.  I rinsed them thoroughly, then soaked them in clean water for 2 hours.  Dumped the water, added some more fresh water, and soaked them for another hour.

Sheathed them up on my sausage stuffer, and here is the result -

The casing performed flawlessly.  They loaded onto the stuffer just fine.  I got no tears or rips while stuffing.  And they held up perfectly when grilled (tip:  Whenever cooking any kind of fresh sausage - commercial or homemade - parboil the sausage first.  Either in beer or salted water.  It toughens up the casings for grilling/frying while melting some of the fat which can cause flare-ups).

I'm tellin' ya, people, there is nothing like homemade sausage.  Besides the improved flavor, you KNOW what's in it.  No snouts, no ears, no peeing parts or whatever.  Just the pork you grind.

If you've never made sausage before, here is are links to two posts I did back in 2009 [Making Sausage - Part 1]  [Making Sausage - Part 2].

Copyright 2012 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


Anonymous said...

when in reno I always plan a day, half for cabellas west of town and half for shiels in sparks east of town. Wish i lived closer, but the 8 hour drive means I don't buy many big things while we are there.

Chief Instructor said...

I love Cabellas. Most of their stuff is too pricey for me, but I love to look.

If you're ever in Idaho, check out the one in Boise. OMG!

I've never heard of Shiels. I need to look it up next time I'm heading that way.

Terrie said... husband makes summer sausage every year out of venison and wild hog,,we give them as Christmas presents in a basket with homemade wine and cheese,everyone loves it, And its all easy to make..

Anonymous said...

capn'matt,I just ate a Hormel steak tips and mashed potatoes.(i did heat it up though) I too am very impressed at the taste and quality of the meal. @ 220 calories you will need to supplement the meal quite a bit but for 2 bucks,pre-packed and ready to go i will be looking for a sale to stock up. thanks for the heads up. matt